Interview: Will the Bo Xilai Case Change China?

The Atlantic’s Matt Schiavenza interviews Wenguang Huang, co-author of A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel about the downfall of former Chengdu Party chief Bo Xilai:

One question while reading your book that struck me was this: was Bo Xilai an exceptional figure, an outlier? Or was he simply a part of the system and just happened to be the one who got caught?

In a way, both — he was an exceptional politician and a part of the system. On the one hand, he was a very charismatic populist and one of the more capable regional officials under Hu Jintao. The social and economic programs that he initiated in Chongqing brought tremendous changes to the city. On the other hand, he was also an egomaniac who mastered a high-profile, American-style campaign approach toward the media. He basically ran into trouble by taking on entrenched business interests in Chongqing and he used his nationally-known anti-crime campaign to persecute political opponents and business people who refused to cooperate with him. Basically, his ruthless ambition and the excesses of his anti-crime campaign were seen as a threat by senior leaders in Beijing. They felt they had to get rid of this politician because he could jeopardize their own political and economic interest if he was allowed to enter the Politburo Standing Committee. The Neil Heywood murder case provided Bo’s opponents with the perfect weapon to shoot him down.

Ultimately, there aren’t really any liberals in the Chinese political system.
Bo wasn’t the first one to fall — look at [former Beijing Party Secretary] Chen Xitong and [former Shanghai Party Secretary] Chen Liangyu, for example — and he won’t be the last either. There’s a leadership transition every five years, with a big one every ten years, and without transparency and fair competition, more power struggles will occur and another Bo Xilai will emerge.

Read Howard French’s review of Huang’s book.


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